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Head of EU's top science body quits after Covid-19 response plans get bogged down by Brussels bureaucracy

Head of EU's top science body quits after Covid-19 response plans get bogged down by Brussels bureaucracy
The head of EU's main science organization has resigned just months after taking the job. He said both the body and EU leadership failed to adopt a robust science-based approach to the Covid-19 outbreak when one was badly needed.

Professor Mauro Ferrari submitted his resignation to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday, effective immediately. His four-year term ended abruptly just months after starting on January 1. Ferrari said he was "extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19," according to the Financial Times, which first reported the news.

Ferrari headed the European Research Council (ERC), a body established in 2007 with a multibillion-euro budget with the goal of supporting scientific discovery in the EU. The ERC's 'bottom-up' approach to distributing grants clashed with Ferrari's suggestion of launching a large-scale effort to fight the pandemic, which he proposed in March after it became apparent that the outbreak would cause a health crisis in Europe.

"I thought that at a time like this, the very best scientists in the world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic, with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new behavioral dynamic approaches based on science, to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders," he explained.

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The proposal was rejected by ERC's Scientific Council. Ferrari said he tried to get his ideas implemented through von der Leyen, but the very fact of him working directly with the Commission head "created an internal political thunderstorm."

"The proposal was passed on to different layers of European Commission administration, where I believe it disintegrated upon impact," he said. He lamented a lack of coordination of national policies in response to the crisis and said his experience completely changed his view of the EU, of which he used to be "a fervent supporter."

A spokesman for the Commission expressed regret that Ferrari had resigned "at this early stage in his mandate." He said 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects were contributing to fighting the pandemic.

Ferrari is a US-Italian nanomedicine pioneer focusing on developing new cancer treatments.

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